You Could Be An Expert At Anything… So Why Aren’t You?

You could be an expert at anything, right now. So why aren’t you? People say that if you comprehensively read three books on any given subject, you’ll know more on that subject than 95% of the population (of course this only accounts for book knowledge, not tactile experience). Additionally, you can learn anything and everything about, well, anything and everything on the internet. Interested in the Cold War? There is a Youtube series, or several hundred Youtube series, on that. Want to pick up knitting? wikiHow. With all of these resources at our disposal, you’d imagine that everyone would be an expert at something- but we’re not. Why is that?

Well, I think there may be a few reasons. I’ll list them below:

  1. Knowing And Applying Are Separate Skills
  2. Stamina Is Fleeting
  3. Somebody Will Always Be Better Than You- Good

Having a plethora of information at our disposal is a miracle that we take for granted, but having access to information alone isn’t enough to conquer a new skill. The list above needs to be address and tackled (or even played into) if we want to succeed in achieving our full potential. Let’s talk about it.

Knowing And Applying Are Separate Skills

Have you ever tried to assemble a complex Lego set? When I was younger, I had a massive ‘Star Wars, Super Star Destroyer’ set that was given to me as a gift (thanks mom and dad). It had 3,104 pieces, pretty complicated stuff. Luckily, it came with an instruction manual. I studied that instruction manual like mad, a majority of the booklet being comprised of pictures. Still, I made a ridiculous amount of mistakes- which I ultimately succumbed to. I never had the satisfaction of seeing that Star Destroyer built, despite having studied that manual and being a self-proclaimed Lego prodigy.

Sure, I was young and yes it was a complex Lego set- but if we scale it up the principle applies. If I want to become an formidable mechanic, I may read twenty books on the assembly of engines. However, I’ll never achieve an ‘expert’ status until I pop the hood and get some grease on my hands. I can watch a thousand videos about horseback riding and still have no idea what to do once I saddle up. This is the first main roadblock to acquiring a new skill- tactile/experiential knowledge.

There are certain areas of knowledge that don’t lean so heavily on tactile experience. They’re usually academic. If that is your aim, then hands-on-experience isn’t going to be as much of a hurdle. However, there are many skills that seem approachable from an academic standpoint that can never fully be achieved until experienced. The first time that lesson really sank in for me, personally, was in college. I study a BFA in Acting. I would (and still do) read supplementary texts to support the work. It has it’s value. Still, nearly all of the concepts remained in an intellectual purgatory for me- vague shadows of what to do. I could never truly access and use them until they were employed in class or in a rehearsal space- lead by a professor who had experiential knowledge in the subject.

If you find yourself wanting to approach a tactile skill like guitar, knitting, or dancing, for example, instructional books and Youtube tutorials can still be of great value. You just have to actively apply those skills in your own attempts (it’s good to follow along) instead of passively or intellectually observing. There will likely be many failed attempts, as is expected when trying something new. That is why we have to be prepared for the dangers of burnout.

Stamina Is Fleeting

What is your motivation for mastering something? Do you actually care about political history, or are you tired of feeling stupid at stuffy cocktail parties? Do you have a genuine love of ballet, or do you feel pressured into learning it because all of your peers are into it?

We all have underlying motivations for the projects we undertake- I’m not here to judge them. However, those motivations can either accelerate or stave-off burnout. When I say burnout, I mean discouragement. Delving into a new topic or learning a new skill is difficult and stamina for these things is fleeting. Simply walking away, like I did with my Lego set all those years ago, is a surprisingly straightforward block to achieving any goal.

If you are pursuing something because of a genuine drive or passion for it, you’ll have a much longer fuse. However, if you are undertaking a project for external reasons: social pressure, envy, etc- you’ll find that fuse to be significantly shorter. Your motivation for achieving said goal isn’t the only factor in how much setback you’ll be willing to tolerate, but it is a key player.

So how can we mitigate burnout/increase our stamina? Two Tips:

  1. Expect Failure- We have to expect failure. This is especially applicable to tactile skills. When we try something new, we’re going to miss the mark. Each miss, though, is a mistake we learn from. Learn from enough mistakes and inevitably, we’ll have to hit the target. Don’t despair in a misstep, as frustrating as they can be, celebrate in them.
  2. Pace Yourself- This is especially important when dealing with academic areas. If you’re really interested in the history of the Olympics, it can be easy to binge seven videos in one night then follow it with an article about the Dream Team as a nightcap. Give that routine a day or two- you’ll get sick of the Olympics very quickly. Pace yourself- this will aid in retention of information as well. I talk a good bit about pacing and productivity in this previous post: ‘I Have To Be Productive… Right?’ You should give it a look.

Someone Will Always Be Better Than You

Good. Let that be a motivating revelation. It is very difficult for someone to be the best at something and it is even more difficult to quantify who that someone is. The truth is, the top is a wretched place as there is nothing left to aspire toward. A champion’s only friend is the chest-pressing anxiety that someone else will eventually usurp them. Does that mean we shouldn’t aspire for greatness?

Of course not. Tackle the world and feel blessed that you will always have someone else to chase. Our maximum potential can’t be quantified, let that endless ladder motivate you. If you don’t, two things can occur.

First, you quit aspiring. Clearly, nothing good has ever come from aspiring to nothing– unless the skill you set out to master was being a waste of space.

Secondarily, you slap on a crown and call it a day. There is a starkly suspicious number of ‘experts’ puttering around these days. Just like how every diner has a sign that says World’s Best Coffee. If that was the best cup-of-joe the world has to offer, then I’m switching to tea. We have to recognize that no matter how much we know, there is someone out there who makes us look sophomoric. Keep that humility and keep that drive. Master that first, maybe even become an expert at it.

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